ETU First Nations delegate Thor is changing minds on Queensland work sites

Coming up to NAIDOC week, we hear from one ETU member who has been passionately sharing his culture and educating workers on site.

Thor Anderson is a proud Quandamooka man and ETU delegate at a major construction site in Queen’s Wharf, Brisbane.

Thor sits on the ETU Queensland’s First Nations Committee, established in 2021, and is passionate about sharing his culture and educating workers in his industry on First Nations Cultures in Australia.

“We have the oldest living cultures in the world, and we should be proud of that,” says Thor.

During reconciliation week in May, Thor and workmate Gangalidda man Yungu Badajarri Yanner visited different companies on site and yarned with workers about culture, sharing personal stories and what reconciliation week is about – commemorating two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey— the successful 1967 referendum, and the High Court Mabo decision.

They also spoke about how the union movement has been involved in fighting for the rights and wages of First Nations workers.

Key historical moments include the Gurindji strike/Wave Hill walk-off when workers protested that the First Nations workers were receiving only a third of the wage that the other workers were receiving. 

Unions also fought for the return of millions of dollars of wages stolen from First Nations workers by Australian governments up util the 1970s – a fight that continues today.

More recently, the ACTU fought for Abolishing the Community Development Program (CDP) in 2021, under which thousands of mostly Indigenous Australians were forced to undertake an endless cycle of Work for the Dole activities to receive an unemployment payment and were subject to a harsh and coercive penalty scheme for failing to do so.

Thor is proud of some of the social justice values of the union movement that align with his work with the Committee. One of the first initiatives has been to explore awareness and education opportunities with workers.

“One of the major issues is that people aren’t aware of some of the experiences and hardships faced by First Nations peoples, in the workforce and in the Australian community,” said Thor.  

“People come up to me after we’ve spoken to them and tell me they had no idea about what has gone on. I can see their minds being changed, and that’s all due to education and having conversations.

“If we overcome those obstacles, people become more open to change and we can create unity and a more positive shared future,” he said.

Thor believes that understanding of First Nations Cultures and an acknowledgment of the difficult history is key for both groups to learn from the past and move forward positively into the future.

“We’ve all come a long way together, let’s be proud of our shared cultures and keep moving forward together,” he said.

The group also played the digeridoo on worksites, something that Thor never imagined he would see.

“It was really meaningful for me to have that instrument played on the site, and it was really well received. It was something I didn’t expect, and I could really feel people connecting with it.

“It shows me that we have come a long way already and made progressive change to be more accepting of other cultures in the Australian community.

Thor is looking forward to positive change not just at worksites but on a national level with the Albanese Government’s commitment to the Uluru Statement of the Heart in May. It’s an important step in a long process towards a change to the constitution. He says it is incredibly important for First Nations Australians to have a voice to Parliament enshrined in the constitution so that they can have more power over the policies and laws that affect them.

NAIDOC week runs from Sunday 3 July to Sunday 10 July 2022. It’s a time to celebrate and recognise the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and an opportunity for all Australians to learn about First Nations cultures and histories and participate in celebrations of the oldest, continuous living cultures on earth.

You can support and get to know your local Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities through activities and events held across the country. 

Thor encourages all ETU members to get involved with NAIDOC week events in their area. Find events here.

Thor and workers on site during reconciliation week in Brisbane.

This article was publised on 29 June 2022.